By Abdallah el-Kurebe
“Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, producing about 40 million tons annually. It is one of the richest fermentable substances for the production of crude alcohol/ethanol.” – Foraminifera Market Research
Ethanol is also produced from cassava and is used as fuel, alcoholic beverages, perfumes, cosmetics, medicaments, etc.
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava but the nation’s annual local demand of ethanol is between 300 and 400 million litres. The country only meets up with three percent of total annual demand. The balance of 97% is presently met through importation, requiring a whooping N160 billion – an expenses that must be curtailed.
Bridging the importation gap
Funded by the United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) came up with the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-Processing (CAMAP) project. This brings cassava cluster farmers as producers and processors, who are up-takers, together.
Aimed at encouraging mechanisation thereby growing beyond subsistence, the cassava farmers are provided with farm inputs including fertilisers, insecticides, implement as well as taught best practices, under the project.
According to CAMAP project coordinator, Ayodele David, “A farmer spends 10 days to harvest cassava on a hectare of land while a farmer in India spends less than six hours on the same portion of land under mechanisation.”
He observes that appropriate mechanisation for cassava could support production, processing as well as developing its market along the value-chain.
AATF’s Communication and Partnership officer, Abu Umaru said that “CAMAP initially targeted 3.5 million farmers in five years but the project is so accepted by farmers that the number may be surpassed.
“The project connects cassava farmers with industrial users directly at competitive price,” he stressed.
David further asserts that CAMAP’s goal “is to enhance technologies to ease the production and processing of cassava by farmers thereby boosting food security, incomes and livelihoods for farmers, processors and marketers of the product.”
Umaru said that if traditional planting, harvesting and processing were upgraded, “competitive cassava commodity value-chain and reliable supply of processed cassava food products, including ethanol production, will be assured.”
The Allied Atlantic Distilleries Ltd (AADL) is the first and largest cassava-based ethanol producing plant in Africa and located at Igbesa in Ogun state. It has a 10 million litres installed capacity of ethanol per annum and requires an approximate 240 tons of cassava per day at an average of 10 tons per hour.
Rajasekar Rajavelu, AADL’s director of Agric operations said that CAMAP had facilitated steady daily supply of cassava to meet up with the requirement.
“Our partnership with AATF has assisted in having between 60 and 65 percent of cassava from which we produce nine million litres of quality ethanol per annum. This is a paltry three percent of the requirement.” The company is targeting 25% production of Nigeria’s ethanol requirement by 2022.
He opines that Nigeria risks importing ethanol that is of low quality because ethanol importers are not concerned about quality.
“That the importers of ethanol are only traders means that quality does not occur to them. The imported ethanol has low quality. AADL produces ethanol from cassava varieties that has best ethanol,” Rajavelu said.
Country requirement of ethanol
Rajavelu said that Nigeria’s annual requirement of ethanol is between 300 and 400 million litres.
“Nigeria consumes between 300 and 400 million litres annually. AADL produces a paltry nine million litres (only three percent of total requirement) from fresh cassava tubers from 5,000 out-grower cassava farmers,” he said.
The director added that the company operates within a 150 kilometres radius covering Ogun and Oyo states in partnership with AATF.
“AATF introduced mechanised cassava farming on 1,000 hectares of land. The Foundation is playing a big role in cassava value-chain by way of providing the technology for farmers,” he said.
Farmer support for enhanced production
Farmers working under the CAMAP project are happy with AATF’s introduction of mechanisation for cassava production.
Abdulrazaq Alghazali is the leader of a cluster group of 15 youths that is cultivating a 40-hectare cassava farm at Igunrin village of Iseyin local government of Oyo state.
He said that AATF’s introduction of agricultural mechanisation for smallholder farmers has enhanced the production of cassava beyond subsistence.
“With AATF now, land clearing, planting, spraying and harvesting are done mechanically. For this 40-hectare farmland, AATF provided us with a tractor, plough, planter, sprayer as well as training us to use the tools,” he said.
Among the challenges faced by, especially AADL are poor roads network and electricity supply.
The 20-minutes drive to the AADL ethanol factory in Igbesa takes about an hour from Lagos.
“This is a serious threat to our efforts to bridge the import gap of ethanol to Nigeria,” Rajavelu said adding, “Electricity is another challenge. Presently, we rely more on the company’s generating set for constant supply of electricity to enable us meet up with our production target.”
These are areas that state governments, especially Ogun and Oyo should come in, most especially that their farmers and other stakeholders along the cassava value-chain, are direct beneficiaries.
More so, AADL, apart from an employer of labour for Ogun youths, is also a major tax payer to the state government.
Getting rid of environmental pollution
Global warming is threatening the environment. Unlike fossil fuels which emit carbon dioxide contributing to 50 percent greenhouse effect, ethanol is safe, renewable and sustainable.
Government should therefore support mass production of ethanol for fuel. This will assist in depending less on petrol. Ethanol would readily be there as alternative.
As the world gets deeply concerned with the contribution of fossil fuel to environmental pollution, Nigeria should join in the initiatives that would allow for durable and environmental-friendly alternatives such as ethanol.